Most people think of Costco (COST 0.83%) as a place to save money by shopping in bulk. That's certainly one way to keep more cash in your pocket when visiting the warehouse club, but it's not the only one.
There are many things you should always buy at a warehouse club, but Costco's shelves, website, and store-within-a-store areas also offer some not-so-obvious ways to save money. To get the full value of your $60 Gold Star membership, or your $120 Executive Membership, you'll need to be a little clever and look deeper into the store's offerings. That should be not only fun, but also rewarding as the savings start to pile up.
Stock your liquor and wine cabinets
Not every Costco location has a liquor store, but the ones that do offer very low prices on name brands. In addition, the warehouse club has even better deals on its own Kirkland house brand. In general, these are high-quality liquors and wines produced by major brands and labeled under the chain's house brand. It may take some experimenting to find out which Kirkland products you like best, but the line compares favorably in taste, and even more so in price, to the best-known spirit or wine brands.
Get new glasses
Buying eyeglasses at the typical mall chain or a local purveyor can easily cost $200 to $500, depending on your needs and your insurance. Costco locations will generally have an eye doctor on premises (like the many mall stores do), and their prices for frames and lenses generally come in well below the competition.
The warehouse club may not have the huge selection some glasses-only stores do, but they have more than enough for most people. Even if you prefer to get your main pair of eyeglasses from another source, Costco is a great place to get a backup pair or some prescription sunglasses.
Have a meal
While people think of Costco as a place to buy food, many don't think of it as a place to sit down for a meal. Yet the company sells $10 pizzas, $1.99 slices, and much more food at cheap prices. Costco has charged just $1.50 for a hot dog and soda combo since 1985, and it also offers inexpensive ice cream and churros for dessert. And, of course, you can supplement your meal by walking around the store and grazing on the free samples.
Buy a car
While Costco does not stock cars in its warehouses, it does have an online program that helps members get good deals with local dealers. Basically, the warehouse club does your negotiating for you. The company makes the best possible deal for you, and all you have to do is pick up the car (and pay for it).
Take a trip
Many shoppers are also surprised to learn than Costco sells vacations on CostcoTravel.com. These packages can be much cheaper than a trip you book yourself. In general, the best deals are offered when you bundle airfare, hotel, and maybe a rental car. The warehouse club also sometimes has excellent prices on theme park package deals that include tickets.
Split your purchases
One of the big problems for Costco customers is that buying in bulk can lead to spoilage, which turns a good deal into a bad one. One way to mitigate that is to shop with a buddy -- ideally someone who needs many of the same things you do.
It takes a little bit of work, but if you split your purchases with someone else, the quantities become more manageable. That can prevent you from having to throw stuff away or eating more than you should just to avoid waste. And remember that food isn't the only thing that spoils; certain medicines and cleaning supplies have a shelf life as well.
Costco consistently sells gas at prices that are among the lowest of any chain. That's because the warehouse club sells fuel as a service to its members and to drive traffic to its stores. It also has limited-service pumps where no cash is accepted and traffic only flows one way. Those are minor concessions to save a few cents, or sometimes more, on each gallon.